Literacy Tips

Literacy Tip of the Week: June 8, 2020

posted Jun 7, 2020, 7:39 PM by Steven Richardson

Dear Literacy Friends,

The long-awaited RISE and RISE Up kits, in conjunction with The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (Richardson, 2016) and The Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention (Richardson & Lewis, 2018), are now available for purchase! Thank you to Jan and Ellen, in collaboration with the Scholastic team, for leading the way in providing struggling learners an opportunity to excel as readers, writers and thinkers, due to engagement with this blue-ribbon, literacy intensive intervention.

In my roles as author of selections in the RISE kit (levels C-N) and lesson designer for the RISE Up kit (levels O-Z), I witnessed first-hand a commitment to respond to the globally expressed need for meaningful literacy learning opportunities for striving readers. According to some 2,000 literacy professionals from 91 countries, as noted in the What’s Hot in Literacy: 2020 Report (International Literacy Association, 2020), topics of significance include “determining effective instructional strategies for struggling readers” and “increasing equity and opportunity for all learners” ( RISE and RISE Up are attentive to these aspects and those associated with them; they provide opportunities for learners to strengthen word-problem solving and writing skills, as well as fluency and comprehension.

Instructors appreciate the lesson guides and instructional cards, featured in the station handbooks. Added resources, to include picture sorting cards, comprehension card set, and a teacher portal with videos and more, make this highly effective intervention instructor friendly.

Students are captivated by the passages in the kits. Some texts encourage learners to consider how MAX (E. Lewis) changes as a character across time; others challenge readers to ponder interesting careers as in High Flyers (C. Gwinn). Some students will busily make slime in their kitchens, in response to Let’s Make Slime (R. Coutu), while others will expand their understanding of poetry as they enjoy First Men on the Moon (J.P. Lewis).

As I deliver RISE and RISE Up specific professional development nationwide, I am witnessing an excitement for this intervention -- and for good reason! Student data reveal on average, RISE learners, who received an average of 33 lessons delivered over 6 to 8 weeks, gained 6.3 months. RISE Up students, who received an average of 33 lessons over 6 to 8 weeks, progressed 5.7 months (Richardson & Lewis, 2018). Thankfully, Jan, Ellen, and the Scholastic team have worked feverishly to make RISE and RISE Up kits available for all. I am confident that instructors and their students will thank them for years to come!

Warm wishes,
Submitted by Carolyn Gwinn, PhD
Educational Consultant and Author

RISE and RISE Up Action Research Study: The Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention by Jan Richardson and Ellen Lewis. Copyright © 2018 by Jan Richardson and Ellen Lewis. Published by Scholastic Inc.

Literacy Tip of the Week: June 1, 2020

posted May 31, 2020, 6:51 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated May 31, 2020, 6:52 PM ]

Can You Teach Pre A lessons Remotely? Many of you have been teaching guided reading remotely and have asked if it is possible to teach the Pre-A lesson this way. Michele Dufresne has written a blog about it.  Click here to read her suggestions.

Literacy Tip of the Week: May 24, 2020

posted May 25, 2020, 7:39 AM by Steven Richardson   [ updated May 25, 2020, 7:41 AM ]

What is Literacy Footprints?
I recently wrote a blog for Pioneer Valley Books on the power of the Literacy Footprints Guided Reading Program. Click here to read more about Literacy Footprints and why it is such a popular guided reading program.

Literacy Tip of the Week: May 17, 2020

posted May 18, 2020, 5:19 AM by Steven Richardson   [ updated May 18, 2020, 5:21 AM ]

Are you interested in receiving virtual guided reading training? If so, read about how Julie Taylor, one of my guided reading consultants, is providing remote professional learning.

Virtual Professional Development on Guided Reading 
By Julie Taylor

Yes, during these uncertain times, I have adapted initial guided reading training to be delivered virtually over the summer months. With a doc cam, I will work with teachers to analyze running records, group students with data on Assessment Summary Charts, score sight word assessments and complete sight word checklists, analyze word knowledge inventories, plan lesson components based on running record data, and plan for guided writing using student writing samples.

I have developed Google slides so that teachers can follow along and practice each of the word study activities, right at their own fingertips! After the training, the teachers have access to the Google slides so they can use them with their students if teaching guided reading remotely.

Thanks to the flexibility of Zoom, teachers will be able to practice prompting and delivering teaching points in virtual breakout rooms using actual texts and student guided reading video clips.

The trainings are as close to what we normally deliver in person, and even use hands-on virtual manipulatives. Up to 100 teachers can attend each training. This is a great way for schools and districts to train new teachers so they’re prepared to begin guided reading when schools reopen. The flyers, training dates and descriptions can be found on my website: click here.

Literacy Tip of the Week: May 10, 2020

posted May 10, 2020, 6:06 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated May 10, 2020, 6:09 PM ]

Reach Out and Teach

Scholastic is launching a new resource for remote learning: Reach Out and Teach. This week they feature lessons from Kylene Beers and Robert Probst -- and Jan Richardson and Michele Dufresne.
Visit the landing page and click to the author pages from there: Click here

Literacy Tip of the Week: May 3, 2020

posted May 3, 2020, 8:06 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated May 3, 2020, 8:19 PM ]

Using Graphic Novels in Book Clubs

Since schools are closed, I’ve had the pleasure of volunteer tutoring two middle school boys via Zoom. Both boys are reading several years below grade level. One lives in Wisconsin and the other in New Mexico. I’ve seen them make amazing growth through guided reading. They have accelerated about one text level per week. I also wanted to motivate them to read independently, so I asked them to be in a virtual book club together. They agreed, even though they don’t know each other. Since both boys were reluctant readers, I decided to use one of Dav Pilkey’s Dogman books. It was a huge hit. After just a few days, one of the mothers sent me this email. “I love that the first thing Jaxon does when he gets done with his morning zoom lesson is go to read Dogman. He is really enjoying it. I have never seen him be so independent with reading -- without me nagging him!” We meet on zoom every day for about 10 minutes. I ask the boys to be prepared to share their favorite part of each chapter and ask a question. We are still working on getting a conversation going, but the boys are getting a lot out of the books. I’ve been able to teach them some challenging vocabulary and literary elements such as flashback, theme, and how characters influence the plot. Attached is a recording of their last book club discussion. It was the first time I didn’t support them. We have now completed two Dogman books, and the boys are ready to try a different genre.

Literacy Tip of the Week: April 26, 2020

posted Apr 26, 2020, 7:23 PM by Steven Richardson

Guided Reading at the Canadian International School in Singapore

My name is Emilija. I am the literacy coordinator at the Canadian International School in Singapore. Just like many other schools in Asia and worldwide, the student population is changing with more English language learners joining the school. The school practices an inquiry approach to teaching. As a result, explicit instruction in reading and writing is rare. From research in the field of bilingual and multilingual learners, we know students need to engage in leveled reading for an extended period of time. The International Literacy Association emphasizes that all students have the right to individualized reading instruction and engagement in literacy-rich activities.

The Guided Reading Journey

I have had previous training with Jan Richardson in guided reading in my previous school in China, and I already knew that the framework for providing targeted reading support works especially well in a bilingual context and with English language learners. Once I joined the school, I started training all the teachers in assessing students’ reading levels accurately, as well as identifying their strengths and areas in need of growth. Once we had all the reading data in, I used the data to create a sense of urgency for the need to change our literacy practices. This moment was crucial, as I wanted teachers to see what we were doing was not working for the majority of the students. However, creating a sense of urgency in itself is insufficient without giving teachers agency. Not only did I present the reality of our current situation, but I also gave teachers a way forward by showing them how we were going to use guided reading to provide support to all the learners. All teachers were trained and coached in conducting guided reading. The school where I work is big with an average of 10 classes in each grade level. I support all the teachers, nursery to grade six.

The process was not easy. For instance, we found that in one class we had students reading at level B and level Z (including multiple levels in between). To get us started, I trained six instructional assistants and we created mobile literacy centers. One instructional assistant was assigned to a single grade level. We analyzed the data and pulled students across classes for guided reading sessions outside the classroom while the teacher was doing guided reading inside the classroom. In this way, the lower end of the class was getting guided reading support almost every day. The groupings are flexible. Since the beginning of the year, we have reorganized the groupings twice.

 Instructional assistants teaching guided reading in the mobile literacy stations

Obstacles Along the Way

We ordered Pioneer Valley resources, but while we were waiting for the book sets to arrive, I had a team create guided reading lesson plans for the instructional assistants while I filmed videos for teachers and assistants to watch. Since assistants were scheduled to do up to 12 rotations of guided reading a day, they didn’t have time to design lesson plans. Some of the assistants are not trained teachers, which complicates the process. Once we received the teaching cards, the process started going much more smoothly.

The biggest problem was finding time to do guided reading while keeping the rest of the class engaged. I found teachers wanted to do too many things at the same time and expected students to manage themselves while completing activities that were not at the students’ independent level. In the beginning, when I would start talking about minutes dedicated to individualized conferences with each student, some teachers would get discouraged so I needed to work at a different pace for individual teachers.

Instructional videos to support teachers

The Results

After just a month and a half of guided reading instruction in grade one, there was a great improvement in the students’ scores on the DRA assessment. The number of students reading below grade level had decreased while the number of students who read on or above grade level increased by 20%. The MAP assessment confirmed our success! The grade one students performed in the 97% in terms of growth as compared to the norm study. The conditional growth index was positive across all the grade levels. In addition, in an internal survey, teachers reported that guided reading provided them an opportunity to get to know the students well and to support their individual needs. More importantly, we noticed growth with the students who were already higher or fluent readers as they were learning strategies which helped them continue to grow. At this point, I have trained even more assistants who can use the teaching cards to support students simultaneously with the teacher in the classroom. We are coming up with a plan on how the English department could support the work happening in the classroom. It has been an exciting journey for the whole staff!

Personal Experience as a Parent with Guided Reading

As a parent, I decided to put the framework to the test with my own children. I have a five-year-old daughter who is in kindergarten. By the end of the first semester, she was still at a Pre-A level, struggling with the sounds and letter names. I started taking books home and teaching her following the same framework three times a week. In just over a month, she is now reading at level C and slowly transitioning to level D:) What is even better, my three year old was seeing all the attention her sister was getting, so she insisted I needed to teach her guided reading, too! She knows most of the letter names and sounds and reads simple pattern books with great enthusiasm!

Guided Reading Works in an International School Context

International schools are unique due to the number of different nationalities represented who speak their own languages. Due to the current trend of more English language learners joining international schools and the potential gaps students might have once they transfer from one international school to another, individualized attention through guided reading is essential. Having sufficient resources and a supportive leadership team who understand literacy are key. Literacy development remains a major commitment for us at the Canadian International School in Singapore!

Literacy Tip of the Week: April 19, 2020

posted Apr 19, 2020, 7:21 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated Jun 10, 2020, 9:30 AM ]

This week my friend and co-author, Michele Dufresne, shares more tips for teaching guided reading remotely.

Teaching Guided Reading Remotely

The concept of how to teach children to read remotely was not even on my radar a couple of weeks ago. As the coronavirus spread and schools began closing across the country, I began thinking about how we can best provide guided reading instruction to our students at home.

There are two very big challenges we as teachers need to overcome: giving at-home students access to high-quality reading materials and finding ways to provide literacy instruction that engages and motivates children to read and write. Here are some solutions to these challenges that will help ensure children continue to progress in their reading and writing skills in these unprecedented times.

You can find all the Pioneer Valley Books resources mentioned at the following links:

® Read-at-Home Sets

® Online Resources for Read-at-Home Sets

® Resources for Remote Learning

® BookBuilder

Ways to Get High-Quality Reading Materials into Students’ Hands

1. Send a collection of 12 to 15 books home with students in a book bag—some at the student’s current reading level and some at the next level up. Of course, you might not get them all back, but I think the gains will be worth the loss.

2. Make personalized books for your students at Pioneer Valley Books has opened up this subscription-based service to everyone.

3. The Read-at-Home collection from Pioneer Valley Books provides very inexpensive leveled books that can be shipped to students’ homes for free. There are 12 books in each set (available for Levels A–N), and each level provides a blueprint of a guided reading lesson that parents can easily use for all 12 books.

4. Coming very soon, Pioneer Valley Books will be providing digital access to their books. You can sign up for our newsletter here to be alerted when this is available.

How to Engage and Motivate Your Students Remotely

I have been giving my grandchildren reading lessons via Zoom. I’ve also been busy filming guided reading lessons (with the amazing help of Karen Cangemi) to accompany some of the books in the Read-at-Home sets. You can watch (and use!) the videos we have created so far on our website; they are available to everyone.

I have learned a few things in the process of creating these online lessons that I’d like to share with you here:

1. You are now an actor! It is pretty strange to talk to a computer—we can find ourselves wondering, Are students listening? We certainly hope they are nodding and answering our questions! To test my video lesson, I had my son hold his phone up so I could watch via FaceTime as my grandchildren did my online reading lesson. I had to laugh when Harper held up her book to the computer to answer a question. So smile! Ask rhetorical questions. And, yup, answer your own questions after giving the kids some wait time.

2. Include a great, big, beautiful book introduction in your virtual lesson. A carefully crafted book introduction can help students successfully read a new book on their own. Since you will not be there to help them as they read the book, the introduction needs to be longer and more detailed.

3. Try to get some one-on-one time with students. Can you arrange to teach your slowest progressing students a couple of times a week via Zoom, FaceTime, or a similar platform?

4. Be creative in helping students gather together word study materials. Pioneer Valley Books has been experimenting with remote word study lessons (see our Word Study lessons at on the Read-at-Home online resources page), but students do need some word study tools. Pioneer Valley Books has a single student word study kit available (our new Words-at-Home set) and has also created some tools that can be downloaded and printed. But students can also make do with letter tiles from games or even cutout letters.

5. Get students writing! It is challenging to support students remotely as they write, but we can help them develop a plan to get them started. For example, have students jot down a key word from the beginning, middle, or end of the story and then use those key words to retell the story in their writing. When they are finished, ask someone at home to take a picture of the completed writing so you can see the results (and encourage completion of the assignment!). Seeing their work can also help you make decisions regarding what to focus on and which skills to address. Try to arrange for students to read and share their writing with other classmates online.


I hope you will find some of these ideas useful. And I bet, like me, you have heard a lot of parents saying they never realized how challenging teaching is!

Literacy Tip of the Week: April 12, 2020

posted Apr 12, 2020, 7:21 PM by Steven Richardson   [ updated Apr 12, 2020, 7:25 PM ]

Does Guided Reading Work for Students with IEPs?

By Julie A. Taylor, Next Step Guided Reading Consultant,


“I teach special education. Can I use guided reading?” The answer is YES, YES, YES!! Students with learning and language difficulties need specially tailored instruction that meets their needs in all areas – reading text, strategic actions at the point of difficulty, self-monitoring, writing, word study, and comprehension. Since students with IEPs have such varied strengths and weaknesses, they need evidence-based, customized instruction that meets them where they are on the continuum of literacy development and grows them into proficient readers and writers (Foorman et al., Institute of Education Sciences, 2016). Through Jan’s Assess-Decide-Guide framework, teachers learn exactly what students need for instruction in all areas of literacy, and specifically how to meet those needs through teaching and instruction that is receptive, formative, active, and engaging - and most importantly wastes no time!

Jan’s guided reading approach allows teachers to plan lessons by combining elements of powerful literacy instruction into a highly effective framework that wastes no time in giving students the specialized, laser-targeted instruction they need. Jan’s approach to guided reading instruction is precisely what helps to close learning gaps for our most vulnerable students. Teachers learn to make day-to-day instructional decisions based on student needs, so no time passes without students receiving lessons that are planned especially to suit them. This continuous teaching and learning cycle helps students with IEP’s to efficiently increase their literacy proficiently through streamlined lessons that are the most beneficial for them.

Hundreds of special needs children I have taught, including my own children, are living proof of the research that has repeatedly shown that reading ability, not IQ, is tied most closely to school and real-world success (Sparks, Patton, & Murdoch, 2013).

If you are a special education teacher, I recommend using Jan’s progress-monitoring charts for tracking student progress. They are ideal for setting goals and objectives on student IEPs and align perfectly to foundational, language and vocabulary standards. For access, click here.


Literacy Tip of the Week: April 5, 2020

posted Apr 5, 2020, 7:24 PM by Steven Richardson

Virtual Bookclubs

By Jan Richardson

Because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, teachers are searching for effective ways to teach their students remotely. Here are some tips for doing virtual book clubs.

1. Form partnerships - Invite your students to participate in a book club with another student. You could group kids together or give them an opportunity to connect with one of their best friends.
2. Get resources – The children will need to read the same book. Some schools have made entire virtual libraries available for free. You could also use text that can be downloaded or free from the Internet.
3. Provide discussion starters – I just added discussion starter bookmarks to my website. Students can use them to ask each other questions about the books they are reading. Click
here and here for the free book club bookmarks.
4. Get students connected – If parents agree, children can use their cellphones to Facetime with each other, or they could use an Internet platform such as Zoom or Google Hangouts. The important thing is that they read books and discuss them with their classmates.

 Here is a video of my granddaughter, Anna, doing a virtual book club with her best friend, Amalia. They are both reading The Ghost of Blackbeard, a Literacy Footprints book. View the book here.

Then watch the video  of the girls discussing the book using the book club bookmarks. 

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